Skipton – castles, cafes & canals

The other week, as the year slid towards the middle of August, with no Sunday plans, and a dismal weather forecast, I still couldn’t face staying indoors and needed some adventure to temper my wanderlust.

A West Yorkshire town called Skipton had been a place I’d wanted to visit for a few years, always half arranged with someone or for some unspecified time and never quite making it happen. At around a 1hr 10 minute drive away, it was pretty much one decent podcast and maybe a couple of my favourite Parquet Courts songs, and before I knew it, I was pulling up to the long stay carpark round the back of the medieval castle, known as Bailey Carpark.

I arrived just as the clock was striking 10am, which conveniently enough is the time Skipton Castle opens it’s doors. There was a quite fumble of mobile phones, as the castle still requires an online booking prior to entry, and so myself and a group of women ahead of me, had to quickly log onto the castles website and book ourself in. It only took a few minutes and then with our barcodes ready, we were good to go. It’s paid entry only and there isn’t really a garden or grounds you can explore for free, so if you want to pass through the big stone gateway and imposing watch towers, you need to pay just under £10 to get in. The stone sign at the top reads ‘Desormais’ meaning Henceforth! A reminder of its French Norman history.

4BAFE181-5720-4514-BE09-4DBABF4E65F2_1_201_a

Once I was in, with my free map, I avoided the main entrance of the castle where the other early arrivals seemed headed, and veered left to peer inside the 700 year old St Johns Chapel. This stone building with large arched windows was pretty atmospheric as the morning sun streamed through, casting shadows on the cold floor, I was glad I had it all to myself.

I then headed back towards the castle, via the toilets (I have a weak bladder, what can I say) and climbed the Lady Anne’s steps to enter. It took maybe around 45 minutes to fully explore each room of the castle that is spread over 2 floors, with the exception of the east wing that’s still a private residence.

The castle is said to be one of the best preserved and most complete mediaeval castles in England, and at over 900 years old, there’s lots to explore. All the rooms are clearly labelled, and with the free illustrated map you get on arrival, you could probably spend longer if you really wanted to absorb yourself in its history.

There is a dungeon, the pretty cobbled Conduit Courtyard and lots of small stone staircases leading into interesting rooms. Highlights included the Lord’s bedchamber, the north fighting chamber, the beer and wine cellar, the curing room with large kitchen & the mediaeval long drop toilets, which gave me flashback to many a festival nightmare.

The withdrawing room, where Mary Queen of Scots was held prisoner for a while, was another highlight, this particular room has a large north facing window, out of which Mary could look towards her homeland of Scotland. And look out for the purpose built crossbow slit window located in one of the fighting chambers, I can only imagine the gory chaos that it must have caused.

crossbow

So for even someone like myself, who’s not that well versed in this particular period in history, its still super interesting and due to its well preserved state, you really get a sense of what it must have been like when it was a busy, noisy fully functioning castle.

It was just after 11am once I was ready to leave and head down the main high street, after a quick look in the gift shop of course. There are loads of little independant shops selling local crafts, chocolate and walking gear. A few places that stood out were Ellie Warburton Cakes, Steep and Filter (a coffee shop with a zero waste refill centre), and Lighthouse Lane on the main street, full of quirky, local, Yorkshire themed gifts, of which the main photo of this post was taken from.

But for coffee and cake, I had my eye on Kibble Bakery, a dog friendly bakery and coffee house, with both indoor and outdoor seating, selling both human and dog friendly bakes, as well as dog accessories and tote bags (yes, I bought one). Of course I travelled alone, so had to make do with talking to the many dogs who turned up with their families, whilst I ordered their delicious plant based chocolate cookie with an oat milk cappuccino complete with adorable chocolate pawprint on the top.

My final stop was a walk along the Springs Canal, which you can easily access if you head left past the Holy Trinity Church. There is definately a lot more to explore here, and you could probably carve out a day just for walks in the area, but my main visit this time was for the castle and town centre, and as the rain started to come down just as I was leaving the coffee shop, I didnt venture too long up the towpath.

Luckily I wasnt too drenched by the time I got back to my car, and so I headed back west, into Lancashire. With the weather improving, there were some gorgeous views of the countryside, so I popped on another podcast and gradually made my way home.

4FF3A7D0-3ABB-4E45-A035-8FA6E605BAF1_1_201_a

 

Brutal Preston

Another August weekend of wet and windy weather and cancelled plans, so I returned to my Brutal North book, and decided to head to my home town one wild Sunday morning.

There are 3 buildings featured in the book, one to the North of the city, in Fulwood and then the other two close to each other in the city centre, so I decided to visit all 3, add a few other buildings along the way and treat myself to a solo lunch, not bad for a potentially washed out weekend.

I started out at the ‘Fulwood Bubble’, built in 1973 it’s a plastic flat roofed building with 35 white panels creating the walls of the classroom, built onto a concrete base. Unusual for sure and easily visible from the main road, so it absolutely sticks out as some otherworldly classroom. I think I would have enjoyed taking some classes inside here, maybe it would have inspired me to work harder at maths . . . maybe not.

B306BD4A-08FE-4EEF-A3E7-894C7ED08185_1_201_a

My second stop was to return to a place I spent many an early morning and late afternoon as a teenager, and is probably one of my favourite buildings in the world – Preston Bus Station. Build in 1968, it is often named in Brutalist Best of Lists for the UK, but I remember many people hated the long, grey concrete building and it was going to be torn down.  I always had affection though for its long curved edges, black Pirelli rubber floor & the cool retro signs inside. Luckily it was given Grade II listed building status in 2013 and so it continues to stand.

It had been a long whilst since I visited the place, even though I still drive past it every once in a while. So it was nice to fully immerse myself by driving up the spiral ramp and parking up inside, wandering through the car park, then heading down the tiled stairway and along the platforms before heading outside.  I would never have appreciated it as a school child, it was just the place where I got the bus to school & I didn’t even enjoy school, but I have always loved the bus station.

Just round the corner is Preston Guild Hall, and it is actually connected to the bus station by a ramp. Unfortunately the ramp and entrance to the hall were closed, whilst the place finds new management, so I walked around the outside and up the stairs to the front. I saw a few comedy gigs here in my early twenties and I am pretty sure my grandad went to some snooker matches here too, and even earlier than that, it had visits from The Jackson 5 and David Bowie, so it’s a shame to see its closed up like this. But it meant I had the place to myself to explore and take in the unusual angular structure and its long concrete cantilevers. Fingers crossed I hope they are able to find some future investment and bring it back to life soon, as its been here since the early 1970’s, and with a bit of care and attention it could return to its former glory.

Opposite the Guild Hall you get a completely different, but no less impressive set of buildings, Preston County Court & Sessions building and the Harris Museum. The Harris museum, which I haven’t visited in years (makes mental note to return) is a Grade 1 Neo Classical building, built in 1882 and is now home to a museum, art gallery and library. Whilst its neighbour the County Court/Session structure is Grade II listed and dates from 1904, but lets hope I never need to visit that particular building inside at all!

31103421-2914-4E46-AF30-B48D7858AC48_1_201_a

After I had successfully located all 3 Brutalist buildings in my book, it was time for wander down the high street, pick up a couple of presents for friends birthdays, and then I headed over to Preston Market. Its totally changed since I used to visit in the 80’s with my Grandma to buy fish paste and kippers for Grandad, I think it still needs some work, or maybe Sunday lunch isn’t the best time to visit. There were quite a few units that were closed, but I did find Brew + Bake who were happy to modify their avocado on sourdough to make it vegan, so thank you!

 

So with a full stomach and fully caffeinated, it was time to head back to the bus station for one last look, re-live those school day memories, collect my car and head home.

Philadelphia- City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection

State No 6

I’m just back from a trip to Philadelphia, but as it was over 10 years since my last visit to this historic, vibrant East coast city, I was excited to return and explore more parts of the city I never managed too last time. I was there attending a workshop, but made sure I put aside time to visit some sights aswell.

Arrivals. You can fly direct from London, Manchester or Dublin, which takes around 8hrs. If you go via Dublin you get to experience Pre Clearance before you board the plane, which as I mentioned in my previous post is a revelation! I didn’t fly direct to Philadelphia this time, I went from Manchester (via Dublin) to Newark in New Jersey. There are lots of options to get yourself straight to downtown Philadelphia from other East Coast destinations, so don’t be put off if flights are super expensive direct to Philly as they were for me. If you fly straight into Philadelphia and are not hiring a car (if you plan to stay solely in and around the city you wont need one) then get the inexpensive, handy SEPTA, straight from the airport to downtown, the most central stations  to get off at will be 30th, Suburban or Jefferson.

If flying in from Newark your best two options are; get the Air Train to Newark Airport Train Station, then either board the Amtrak straight to 30th Street Philadelphia which is direct but can be expensive, or get the NJ Transit train to Trenton, then change to the SEPTA straight to downtown Philadelphia. If you fly into New York, you can get the train or Bus from Penn Station, while Washington DC also has direct buses (taking around 4 hours) and trains from its gorgeous Union Station direct to downtown Philadelphia.

Getting Around. A lot of sights are easy to walk too, especially if you group a few of them in the same neighbourhood together during your visit, the SEPTA (buses, trolleys and subway) runs all over the city and is super easy to use, while taxi’s, Uber and Lyft are also available everywhere.

History Bit. The city was founded by an English entrepreneur and Quaker called William Penn in the late 1800’s after he was gifted some land from King Charles II. Prior to this, the area of land that eventually became the capital of Pennsylvania was inhabited by the indigenous people of the Lenape. There is so much history here in this city, whether you want to learn more about slavery, the declaration of independence or even its religious past, it is all richly reflected here in a lot of the popular sights visited today.

What to see. Independence National Park and of course the star of the park, probably the most famous broken bell in the world, is the Liberty Bell. There is a lot to see in this area, all the sights are located close to 5th and Independence Mall which is a SEPTA stop handily enough. There is the huge Independence Visitor’s Centre which is the perfect place to start your historic day trip, open from 8.30 daily and free, there is a shop, cafe, theatre as well as exhibitions which illustrate and inform all visitors on the importance this city has had on the rest of the country. Across the street is the Liberty Bell centre, which is also free and open from 9am, its first come first served, so time your visit well to avoid the queues. If its busy and you can’t face waiting for a B’elfie (Bell Selfie?) then walk towards the Independence Hall past the Liberty Bell centre and take a look back and to your right, you can see the Bell through the glass wall. Visiting the Independence Hall is also free, but you need to book onto one of the tours in advance, there are also free gardens and outdoor exhibits all around this area making it a must do whether you have a passing or keen interest in the history of the USA.

One block north of the Independence visitor centre is the National Constitution Centre this is open daily, costing just under $15 per adult for a ticket. This includes access to the Signers Hall, lots of museum exhibits, an interactive We The People show and a theatre production which runs every 30 minutes depicting the history of the signing of the constitution, fascinating stuff!

This area is part of the oldest neighbourhood of Philadelphia, so just wander around and you will constantly find places of interest and historical significance, the oldest street is here Elfreth’s Alley in fact it is known as the oldest residential street in the US. Christ Church Burial Grounds is located close by, where you can take a fascinating leafy green walk through the churchyard where Benjamin Franklin was buried amongst other figures important to US history. This church ground is situated on Arch St and Independence Mall, and if you continue East down Arch, close by is the Betsy Ross House which is where the first US flag was made by Betsy herself, see there is history around every corner.

A short walk west along Arch St you pass the African American Museum, I couldn’t get to visit this time due to the workshop I was attending, but I definitely want to schedule in time to go next visit. Keep walking along this street and next up is the Chinatown Friendship Gate signally the start of Chinatown, like any Chinatown across the world there is a great colourful vibe, tonnes of shops, restaurants, cafes and a monthly Night Market. I headed away from Chinatown though this visit to Arch and 12th St and what may become my most favourite farmers market that I have ever visited, the loud, vibrant, assault on all the senses that is the Reading Terminal Market.
img_2595 img_2593

Over 100 years old and open from 8am-6pm daily, you must plan a visit to explore the 80+ stalls of food, drink and crafts. Definitely give the place a once over before deciding where you sit and eat and what to buy, there are Amish stalls serving home made cheeses, butchers and fishmongers selling their fresh produce as well as places to buy kitchen supplies and flowers as well as the many restaurants. Stay for something to eat for sure, whether its a vegan corn dog at Fox and Son, a Philly Cheesesteak at Carmens or comfort food at the Dutch Eating Place you can easily spend an hour here, I even spotted peanut butter chocolate bacon for sale, but gave that a miss!

The architecture in Philadelphia is amazing, with a range of styles both old and new, from the art deco railway stations of Suburban and 30th St to the 60 storey Comcast Tower (due for completion in 2018) and its even higher neighbour One Liberty Place, it can make for a dizzying but fascinating wander. If you head West from Reading Terminal Market towards the skyscrapers of downtown, dominating the skyline is the Masonic Temple. Taking 5 years to construct and then another 15 years to finish the interior, you cannot fail to miss this beautiful elaborate granite building, taking up a whole block of its own. Tours are available but limited and cost $15.

Right opposite the Masonic Temple is the largest municiple building in the US City Hall, its another huge impressive building, that proudly stands in the heart of the city and makes a good point of reference when exploring this part of town. Although it never became the tallest building in the world as it had been hoped, it did hold the record for tallest building in Philadelphia up until the 80’s. If you have a head for heights ascend up the tower for what I can imagine are insane panoramic views of the city, tower tours finish at around 4pm though, so dont leave it late, I couldnt fit it in this time with it being a work trip, so have pencilled it in for next time.

IMG_2673 The great city hall peaking out at the end of Broad Street

The next big attraction on most peoples itineraries when visiting Philadelphia will probably be the Museum of Art and even if you arent an art lover and dont want to pay the $20 entrance fee, still head over so you can run up the famous Rocky Steps and get a photo by the statue. You can get there by bus or on the metro to 30th St station and from there its a 20 min walk along the Schuylkill River, but if you fancy walking from downtown, head down the gorgeous tree and flag lined Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Even if you dont visit inside the art museum, head round to the back of the building and visit the sculpture and landscaped gardens with gorgeous views along the Schuylkill River, I only found them after a tip from my Lyft driver, who I gave 5 stars too of course!

There are so many more museums that are worthy of visiting, but as I was over for a work trip, I just couldnt squeeze as much in as I would have liked.  On my hit list for next time is the Franklin Institute, Rodin Museum, Please Touch Museum, The National Museum of American Jewish History and The Eastern State Penitentiary as well as the African American Museum that I mentioned earlier.

There is so much outdoor green space in Philadelphia, lots of parks, squares and river walks, which makes for a nice contrast when you have got your fill on museums and other indoor sights. Fairmont Park is the big one, with over 9,000 acres to explore, but there is also Franklin Sq, Love Park, Washington Square and the Schuylkill River Trail to name only a few.

Food and Drink – Philadelpahia does great coffee, with some unique independent coffee shops that also side hustle as clothing shops, creative spaces and music venues. Some gems I visited during my latest stay included Rival Bros and United by Blue and next time I really want to visit Grindcore Coffee which is a vegan coffeeshop.

Speaking of vegan food, I visited Hip City Veg twice during my stay, its a 100% plant based diner that serves the most delicious meat-free food including chick’n fajitas and tempeh burgers that even the most hardened carnivore would love and the green drink below is the insanely amazing kale lemonade.

 

Hot Tips –

  • A single fair on the Septa costs $2.50 or a 1 day convenience pass (max 8 rides) is $9
  • On the first Friday evening of each month there is a Art Walk in the Old City District.
  • Known as one of the best beer cities in America, there are more than 60 brewing companies in the Philadelphia region alone with many local companies organising brew pub tours.

Other sights

  • Six Flags Theme Park is only around 90 mins away on the train (change at Trenton)
  • Jump on the Septa to Wissahicken and hike the Valley Park Trail and then eat and drink along Main Street afterwards in the Manayunk district. Manayunk is Native American for ‘Where we go to drink’ by the way!
  • Shop, eat and drink along South Street in the heart of the city.

Always be polite – If you buy a $10 cheesesteak at Reading Terminal Market then a tip would be around $1.50.